A group of young vocalists from Singapore will soon make history at one of the world's most renowned performance venues.
Come 10 June, the Voices of Singapore Children's Choir (VOSCC) will become the first children's choir from the Lion City to have the honour of performing at New York's Carnegie Hall, a place that has hosted music legends such as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, and The Beatles since it opened its doors in 1891.
Considering the choir has only been around for four years, the invitation to perform at the venue without the need to audition is a huge early milestone for VOSCC, one that will doubtless spur its promising members to reach for even greater heights.
Under the guidance of Voices of Singapore's (VOS) Artistic Director, Dr. Darius Lim, the choir — which is made up of members of various backgrounds — has been diligently preparing for their performance at Carnegie Hall. There, its young vocalists will also double as young ambassadors of Singapore as they showcase musical works from their home country in addition to familiar choral compositions.
"I hope that people will see a new side of what Asian, Southeast Asian, and Singaporean cultures are. I hope we can show that Singapore is more than just Chinese culture and that there's actually a multiracial side of Singapore," shared the choir's Choo Yong Han, a Conducting Scholar under VOSCC's Choral Scholars Programme.
Despite being of different ages, the choir's members are bound together by a shared love for music and performing, and their beautiful camaraderie will be on display when they take the stage at Carnegie Hall alongside each other.
In an interview with Hear65, VOSCC members Lim En Han Leanne (18), Choo Yong Han (16), Roshan Bharadhwaj (13), and Czarina Oswald-Lim (11) and VOS' Artistic Director, Dr. Darius Lim, talked about their upcoming Carnegie Hall debut, growing alongside like-minded individuals, and sharing music from Singapore with the world.
Hi, Voices of Singapore Children’s Choir! Tell us how being a part of the choir has helped you grow as a singer.
LEANNE: I think being part of the children’s choir has exposed me to different styles of music and different styles of rehearsals from various conductors. The environment here is very supportive and allows me space to explore my voice and be more confident to mess up horribly [laughs] and learn from them.
YONG HAN: Being in the choir has given me a lot of opportunities to perform and develop myself and make friends while singing in a semi-professional environment. We all have the same passion. Everyone here is so dedicated and it's nice to be around people with the same passion as me.
ROSHAN: It has taught me discipline because when I joined the choir I was still a young kid. Of course, it has also increased my musical ability. I feel like I've improved a lot since I joined VOS three years ago. Also now, I feel more motivated to become a musician compared to when I first joined.
CZARINA: Being part of this choir has helped me with my sight singing, and it has helped me with my confidence on stage.
"We all have the same passion. Everyone here is so dedicated and it's nice to be around people with the same passion as me."
How did you feel when you found out that you would be the first children’s choir from Singapore to be invited to perform at Carnegie Hall?
LEANNE: It felt intense! It just feels like we’re all quite young as a children’s choir and we have to work harder to meet expectations because Carnegie Hall is such a huge thing. But I’m glad that we are all excited and supportive of each other as we get ready for it.
ROSHAN: That moment was unbeatable. It's a dream come true, especially for a 13-year-old like me to perform on one of the grandest stages in the world where the finest artists of each genre have performed. I think it is single-handedly going to be the best moment of our trip to New York. I'm really grateful and we are putting in a lot of hard work so I hope we can do well.
YONG HAN: I felt stressed because of the high expectations to perform at Carnegie Hall. And because all of the greatest performers since the 19th century have performed at Carnegie Hall, it's really great to be able to perform there at our age.
CZARINA: I'm so excited! My friends saw my photo in the Little Red Dot magazine’s feature of us and they were like, “Wow, you're going to New York!” They thought I got this opportunity because of my casting as young Elsa in Frozen (Disney's Frozen The Hit Broadway Musical) earlier this year. And I was so shocked, I was like, “No, this choir actually helped me with Frozen!”
"Because all of the greatest performers since the 19th century have performed at Carnegie Hall, it's really great to be able to perform there at our age."
Let’s talk about your preparations for your Carnegie Hall debut. What have your rehearsals been like?
LEANNE: We have a lot of songs, so it’s a lot of detail work and memorising!
ROSHAN: We have been trying our best to perfect every single detail of each song. We also have a lot of fun during breaks. It's a good balance between work and fun.
YONG HAN: Actually, for a lot of the musical details on stage, we can just catch them from Dr. Darius' conducting. But it's a lot of memory work still. Sometimes, Dr. Darius asks me to conduct rehearsals and I have to learn everybody's parts, but it's paying off because it's perpetually looping in my head now and I have all my parts memorised.
CZARINA: Some of the rehearsals have been quite intense. We go over the songs a lot and try to perfect them.
Outside of rehearsals, what have you been doing to get yourself ready for the concert?
LEANNE: Honestly, not much. [I’ve] mostly just [been] mentally preparing myself!
ROSHAN: I practise everywhere I go, and in school my teachers literally come 10 minutes after the designated period. So I'll sing then, even though sometimes my classmates are like, “What is this guy doing?” I practise a lot because I really like the songs that Dr. Darius has selected for us to perform.
YONG HAN: Our pieces are on Spotify and I have a playlist for that, so it's perpetually looping on my headphones. It's just a lot of external memory work and a lot of being at school and just flipping scores.
CZARINA: I have been singing a lot at home. Sometimes while I'm doing my practice papers, I just get bored and start singing. Sometimes I can imagine the whole choir just singing in my head and it's so amazing.
"I hope we can show that Singapore is more than just Chinese culture and that there's actually a multiracial side of Singapore."
You will be performing songs made in Singapore when you are in New York. How do you hope your audience will react to them?
LEANNE: I hope there will be some Singaporeans in the audience and that our songs will appeal to them! Like a visit from home.
YONG HAN: I hope that people will see a new side of what Asian, Southeast Asian, and Singaporean cultures are. I hope we can show that Singapore is more than just Chinese culture and that there's actually a multiracial side of Singapore.
ROSHAN: I hope Singaporeans coming to our performance can experience a sense of belonging and pride as they hear all the songs. There'll be a lot of goosebump moments for sure. And for those who are not Singaporeans, I hope they will get to understand more about Singapore's culture, music, and folklore.
CZARINA: I hope there will be some Singaporeans in the audience and that their eyes will light up and they will be reminded of home. I hope they would want to listen to us more! And I hope the non-Singaporeans will realise that there are lots of good singers all over the world, not just in the US, and that our music is also world class.
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What do you think are some qualities of a good choral performance?
LEANNE: Good musicianship in the details of the song and how we work together as a choir, good discipline in the efforts we put into learning our music, and the responsibility that individual members take for their involvement in the choir.
ROSHAN: It’s not just about good singing or enunciation, pronunciation, and vocal technique. We also have to engage the audience like, you know, we have choreography in our performance as well. We don't have to do too much of it, but we need to have a good balance between vocal technique and making the performance exciting.
YONG HAN: It is a good blend of vocal technique, audience interaction, and also having a good repertoire. I think most people won't find much interest in a repertoire that is purely traditional, sacred choral music. On the other hand, if it's only contemporary pieces, it won't be a well-rounded choral performance. I feel that the stereotype is that people tend to fall asleep during choral concerts, so I think [having a] good repertoire and audience interaction is what will keep the standard of a performance high.
CZARINA: I think a good quality to have is the togetherness of our harmonies. And our choreography has to be synchronised because when one person is out of line it's so obvious! We also cannot have our faces just [be] blank. Our faces have to have expressions. In our song ‘Singapura’, we have a line that goes "come along join the song in merry singing", and we just open our arms towards the audience. It makes the audience feel like they're part of this song now too.
"[Some qualities of a good choral performance] are good musicianship in the details of the song and how we work together as a choir, good discipline in the efforts we put into learning our music, and the responsibility that individual members take for their involvement in the choir."
What is the best part about being able to perform alongside other young vocalists from Singapore?
LEANNE: It’s fun because we are all around the same age, so we can relate more to each other and we have more chemistry.
YONG HAN: I'm sure that a few of us here will become successful musicians in the future and go on to establish our own music empires. Getting to know them as friends personally makes me feel much more connected and dedicated to this choir and it makes me feel much more dedicated to music as a whole.
ROSHAN: We all have a similar mindset because we're around the same age, like it ranges from around 8 to 18. I'll call that the same age [laughs]. We have similar feelings, thoughts, and the same passion for music, so we support each other a lot.
CZARINA: I think it's really amazing because I have so many friends in the choir, and if there are songs that I need help with, they'll always say, “Okay let me help you.” It’s a really nice and supportive environment.
Hi, Dr. Darius! What were some considerations that you had in mind while selecting works from Singapore to showcase at the performance?
DR. DARIUS LIM: When it came to programming the repertoire, we wanted to present the main cultures of Singapore. So we included songs in Chinese, Malay, and Tamil besides the English songs. We also wanted to showcase different facets of the Children's Choir's performing styles, including classical, musical theatre, and pop genres. There are also some very high-level choral works that are not usually sung in children's choir to showcase our artistic excellence training in the programme.
"My hope is also that our international trips will go beyond just performing in one performance venue to having concert tours for the Children's Choir, presenting our multicultural diversity and local Singaporean heritage in music."
The choir’s upcoming performance at the prestigious Carnegie Hall will come just four years after its inception in 2019. How do you hope to build on this achievement moving forward?
DR. DARIUS LIM: I see Carnegie Hall as a stepping stone to the international scene, and a very significant one at that because it's the most prolific venue in the world to perform at. I hope that this will kickstart numerous other invitations; and we have already started to see this happening with a recent invitation from the World Choir Festival in China this year. My hope is also that our international trips will go beyond just performing in one performance venue to having concert tours for the Children's Choir, presenting our multicultural diversity and local Singaporean heritage in music.